Russia look to mount strong defence against Czechs
FOOTBALL: Russia will be looking to their defence to put on an improved display when they take on the Czech Republic in their opening Group A match tomorrow (June 8).
Thursday 7 June 2012, 05:40PM
The Russians, coached by veteran Dutchman Dick Advocaat, are in buoyant mood ahead of the Euro 2012 kick-off after a morale-boosting friendly victory last Friday.
Advocaat's side produced a vibrant attacking display to thump an out-of-sorts Italy 3-0 in Zurich leading expectations to flower in some quarters.
Russia were one of the revelations of Euro 2008 with their delightful attacking flair-filled play under the guidance of another Dutchman, Guus Hiddink, destroying Holland in the quarter-finals before losing in the semi-finals.
And Russian captain Andrey Arshavin believes the Italy win proved Russia are ready to take on and beat the best.
"The result of the friendly match with Italy boosted our fans' hopes ahead of the championship's start and all of our players also," he said.
"However, for a long time we have believed our team is capable of playing at this level."
However, Advocaat is keen to quell the rising tide of optimism.
Although his side produced some fine attacking play in Zurich, with Zenit St Petersburg strike pairing Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Roman Shirokov particularly impressive, ably supported by Arshavin - on loan at Zenit from Arsenal - Advocaat is more concerned about his defence.
In truth, they allowed Italy several clear chances but some poor finishing was the main reason the Azzurri failed to score.
"One friendly victory, even if it was a thrashing of Italy, doesn't make us the Euro favourites," said 64-year-old Advocaat, who is stepping down after the finals to take over Dutch side PSV Eindhoven.
"We should remain realists, it was just a warm-up game.
"It's good that we scored three goals against Italy to boost our team's self-confidence but we still need to improve our defence to avoid serious problems in the group matches with the Czechs, Poland and Greece."
One man that Advocaat will be hoping repeats his form of 2008 is striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, and the Lokomotiv Moscow hitman says that a win against the Czechs is crucial.
The 30-year-old - who ended an inconsistent four year spell at Premier League side Spurs in January with a transfer back home - said that it would not be an easy task to beat the Euro 2004 semi-finalists.
"We should win on Friday at any costs," said Pavlyuchenko, who was one of their stars in 2008 scoring three goals.
While the Russians are trying to improve their defence, the Czechs have had quite a different problem to overcome in their preparations.
Before arriving at their base here in Wroclaw, traces of the potentially-deadly Legionella bacteria were found in their hotel, which needed to call in a disinfection company before Polish health inspectors gave it the all clear.
Their other major concern is over the fitness of Galatasaray forward Milan Baros who limped out of training on Tuesday with a thigh problem.
The Czech's chief team doctor Petr Krejci said if he doesn't take part in full training on Thursday then he won't be able to play against Russia but added: "It's not as if the tournament's over for Milan."
Captain Tomas Rosicky had been a doubt but he resumed full training on Monday following a calf problem.
Arsenal's Rosicky, alongside fellow veterans Peter Cech of Chelsea and Baros, should form the backbone of the Czech challenge.
However, their friendly form coming into the tournament has been patchy, having beaten Israel 2-1 they went down by the same score at home to a youthful Hungary side.